In yesterday’s report, there was a sense that round 10 of the Grand Chess Tour Croatia would be the decisive round, with Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So squaring off to determine who would walk into round 11 at the Novinarski Dom with one hand firmly on the trophy.
A creative Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has been in fine form this year including a win at the Moscow FIDE Grand Prix, struggled to get going against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and settled for a draw out of a relatively rare Caro-Kann featuring a surprise pawn push.
Ding Liren and Levon Aronian were in a tame mood, playing a game where Ding was not able to gain control of the c-file as he had wished. Instead, Aronian was able to exchange a dangerous rook in the middle game to achieve a draw.
After being the only player to win during round nine, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov looked for a fight with a relatively aggressive variation against world number two Fabiano Caruana, but despite this game being the longest of the day, neither player was able to find joy.
Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri made quick work of their game by slamming up against a Berlin wall for a draw. Nakamura and Giri had played this opening before—at the 2013 FIDE Grand Prix and 2014 London Chess Classic respectively—and both unsurprisingly also ended in draws.
Last but not least, Sergey Karjakin played knight keep-away with Vishy Anand and did his best to neutralize Anand’s bishop pair in a peaceful but somewhat frustrating game.
The final round will take place tomorrow with a game between the world’s top two-rated blitz players, Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen, headlining the pairings:
Among this flurry of drawn games, some of which featured subpar play, Yasser Seirawan found time to tell an amusing and perhaps relevant story about the time when he wanted to kiss Garry Kasparov for making a poor move:
That time Yasser played Kasparov and wanted to give him a kiss… pic.twitter.com/1K3gYQCczp
— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) July 6, 2019
With Carlsen approaching a historic milestone of 2900 and So playing one of the best tournaments of his life until yesterday’s great escape versus Nepomniachtchi, even a draw was bound to have some clever play. This game was no exception when the Nimzo Indian was played, a typical response to Nc3 openings but increasingly rare at top tournaments. Typically a transposition into a Catalan or a QGD Ragozin happens, but So decided to buck this trend:
Being a professional chess player comes with a unique set of considerations regarding the approach to each game. So remarked on how the points format influences his style, “I want to be a fighter but our earnings are also based off points.” Carlsen was in agreement, also pointing out that going all out for a win is not So’s style.
Another potential factor was the lingering disappointment from So’s escape versus Nepomniachtchi in round nine. So says he came into today’s round in a bad mood, adding that he feels his level of play has been decreasing. With one more round to play and with So facing Aronian with the black pieces in round 11, he may find it difficult to catch Carlsen and deprive him of victory in Croatia.
Mamedyarov met Caruana with the former coming off a high and the latter coming off a frustrating blunder in round nine. They were left playing on their own for more than an hour as all other games had ended relatively quickly. In fact, they were only 18 moves in when all other games had finished. Does that mean this game was exciting? Let’s take a look:
Caruana continues to fail in distancing himself from the third-place pack of Aronian and Nepomniachtchi and will be looking to put frustrations behind him in the final round.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave may have been disappointed at not being able to keep an advantage and find a result after Nepomniachtchi’s 20…a6 exposed weakness on the b6 square that wasn’t exploited by Vachier-Lagrave. Nepomniachtchi made his best attempts at creativity featuring an impromptu 14…h5, but the game remained about equal:
Despite having not played the Caro-Kann since 2013, Nepomniachtchi was able to hold steady. Vachier-Lagrave commented that he preferred his position throughout the game but felt he had rushed a pawn push that ended in an exchange and eventually a perpetual to finish the game.
In his game against Giri, Nakamura opted for a Berlin, which disappointed fans who believe in unicorns:
Every time Hikaru plays the Berlin, a unicorn dies. Please save the unicorns #GrandChessTour
— MrDodgy (@ChessProblem) July 6, 2019
It was peculiar that Nakamura took a traditional line here instead of something more accelerated that we will dive into:
However, Nakamura’s mind may be set on maintaining perspective as he mentioned in an insightful tweet after the round:
Between the earthquakes in Ridgecrest, CA where I spent the first few years of my life or the gas explosion at the Fountains mall in Plantation which I go to frequently, it is important to remember what matters most!
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) July 6, 2019
Despite his inability to find a result in any round of the Grand Chess Tour Croatia, Nakamura is still a fan favorite in Zagreb and will look to send them home happy by finding a result with the white pieces versus Anand in the final round.
Ding Liren decided on a draw-heavy line in his trusty Catalan. After settling on a draw in Norway Chess last month, there was a hope that these two would find some creativity:
The world number three will have the black pieces against a suddenly-dangerous Mamedyarov tomorrow.
Karjakin was able to frustrate Anand a bit here no doubt, with shades of the 2018 Tata Steel India Blitz encounter between these two in which Anand looked to have space to operate and a clear advantage but wasn’t able to capitalize. Still, Anand’s ability to play at the top levels even as he comes out of his prime is impressive.
Current standings and results after round 10 are below:
The 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour takes place June 26 to July 8 at the Novinarski Dom in Zagreb, Croatia. This is one of the two classical events on the tour this year. The time control is a new one with 130 minutes for each player with a 30-second delay from move one.
The games start at 4:30 p.m. local time (CEST), which is 10:30 a.m. Eastern and 7:30 a.m. Pacific. You can follow the games here as part of our live portal with daily commentary by GM Daniel Naroditsky and WFM Alexandra Botez.
Use the new Chess.com multi-game player to view all games from round 10 and download PGNs:
Edited for content, grammar and title by Nick Barton.